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Healing Our Region’s Waterways

Upstream Matters / Natural Habitats  / Healing Our Region’s Waterways
Since 2006 the Upper Neuse Clean Water Initiative (UNCWI) has helped protect Raleigh’s drinking water by conserving land and waterways feeding into Falls Lake. A small fee added to residents’ water bills provides dedicated revenue to support conservation of these critical areas. UNCWI and the nonprofit land trusts that serve as partners in it—including ECWA—have leveraged $7 for every $1 invested by Raleigh water users and protected more than 10,000 acres.

The 450 acres of land protected by ECWA play a humble yet critical role in UNCWI’s success. In addition to preserving land, ECWA is the only urban nonprofit in the Triangle conducting water quality improvement projects that seek to heal waterways and undo damage caused by decades of development without adequate stormwater management. “Protecting all the remaining land in the entire watershed would not clean up the pollution in the stream or our downstream water supply,” says Chris Dreps, Land and Water Program Director for ECWA. “ECWA is working toward that through our Creek Smart® approach to managing rainwater, like the Watts and Powe Elementary School projects and the Pearl Mill Preserve.”

With support from UNCWI and the City of Durham, ECWA has begun the construction of bioretention cells—essentially engineered rain gardens—that will soon treat more than an acre of dirty stormwater runoff from uphill areas at the Pearl Mill Preserve located along Rand Street and West Markham Avenue. This urban area was developed in the 1950s. Soon, for the first time since then, polluted stormwater runoff from that acre will not go directly into Ellerbe Creek. “Instead, it will be soaked into the soil in beautiful gardens full of native plants. The area will also provide a new walking trail for preserve visitors to stroll along,” says Dreps.

Here’s to another 20 years of healing Ellerbe Creek! You can learn more about ECWA’s Pearl Mill Preserve, and about how you can make your property Creek Smart® to reduce stormwater runoff, at

By Ellerbe Creek Watershed Association